Here's some good news for prospective MBAs: Ninety-two percent of 2012 grads surveyed by the Graduate Management Admission Council had a job three months after graduation, a track record 6 percentage points better than that of the class before them. And 77 percent of those new hires said their salary met or exceeded their expectations.
The pickup in hiring is leading many recent b-school grads off the traditionally well-worn paths into finance and consulting.
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"Career outcomes for MBAs are far more diverse than they were five years ago," says Nunzio Quacquarelli, managing director of the higher education research firm Quacquarelli Symonds, whose latest TopMBA.com "Jobs and Salary Report" gives a snapshot of what's going on at 3,305 employers around the world. Among the industries projected to see double-digit growth in MBA hiring this year: information technology and computer services, energy, and pharmaceuticals and healthcare.
Student interest is shifting, too, says Michelle Chevalier, director of the Graduate Business Career Center at the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management. Many of today's graduates are seeking—and finding—work with start-ups, nonprofits, and companies whose products and services "benefit the world in some way," she says.
And the entrepreneurial ranks are expanding at b-schools across the country.
"I anticipate doing this full time" after graduation, says Dan Wolchonok, who has focused on entrepreneurship at the Yale University School of Management and who, while still a student last year, won funding from the school's entrepreneurial institute to start PrepWork, a software-based service that acts as a personal research assistant.
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On the international front, the most recent QS report projects that the demand for MBAs in Asia will grow by 26 percent in 2013 alone. India now has more reported openings for new MBA grads than this country does, says Quacquarelli.
To be sure, there is still interest—and plenty of hiring going on—in some of the more traditional fields, too. TopMBA.com projects 9 percent growth in demand in consulting and professional services for 2012-2013, and 22 percent in electronics and high tech. People interested in financial services still face a bit of a challenge; QS estimates only 3 percent growth there.
"Financial and regulatory uncertainty have caused banks to be very cautious about hiring," says Lisa Feldman, executive director of MBA Career Management at the University of California—Berkeley's Haas School of Business.
When financial services companies do hire, they often pull directly from their summer internship programs, which means the hunt for a job really begins in the first year of an MBA program.
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Banks "want to make sure that people really understand the culture," says Ron Peracchio, senior director of the Career Development Office at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Sloan School of Management. "If [students] don't get an internship in the summer, there aren't a lot of opportunities unless they have banking experience."
Other industries also like to hire from their intern pool, even if not to the same extent as banking.
"I'd say that over 50 percent of my friends have jobs from the summer or have good relationships with their summer employer," says Grace Chang Mazza, who is studying marketing at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School and interned for consumer goods giant Unilever last summer. She went into the job believing it could serve as an entry point, and indeed will work there after getting her MBA this spring.
This story is excerpted from the U.S. News Best Graduate Schools 2014 guidebook, which features in-depth articles, rankings, and data.